Bay Area commuters at their best

California transportation officials braced themselves for the worst when the Bay Bridge weekday commute got under way Monday, for the first time since Sunday’s early-morning fiery tanker truck crash destroyed two key eastbound sectors of the MacArthur Maze. But the feared massive tie-ups did not happen, as Bay Area commuters rose to the occasion, using their heads and coping impressively.

Whether by taking temporarily free public transit, telecommuting, driving in nonpeak hours or finding alternate routes, regional commuters created inventive ways to avoid producing massive gridlock. Effective early responses from state and local officials also contributed much to keep the cars moving.

Of course, the early days of a prolonged transportation bottleneck are when the public is most willing to cooperate, and the second day’s commute did not go quite as smoothly. As the daily grind of commuting fatigue settles in, anger and frustration mounts, while early permissive policies get pulled back. The Bay Area went through this cycle in 1989, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake collapsed a 50-foot eastern section of the Bay Bridge and shut down the entire span for a month.

At least this time the main bridge structure is still operational. And during the last year, commuters did well during scheduled weekend one-way Bay Bridge closures for the temporary rerouting of various ramp lanes. However, the unprecedented massive 250-yard swath of wreckage from the new destruction will require months of repair at best, even with the fast-tracking and emergency funding that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already approved.

This means the commuting public, state and federal officials and the media will all need to continue showing good sense for some time to come. Examples of what might be done would include temporarily offering bus and BART discount passes to encourage less car use and allowing as much job flextime as possible.

Assemblyman Lou Papan made a difference

Longtime San Mateo County Assemblyman Lou Papan, who died of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 78, made strong supporters and strong enemies. He was one of the Peninsula’s most powerful political leaders for 40 years and unarguably did a great deal of good for the Bay Area and all of California, especially in building today’s network of support services for disabled children.

As chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee during the heyday of Speaker Willie Brown, Papan was nicknamed “The Enforcer.” But he was also known as the “Dean of the Assembly,” and his peers elected him Assembly speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 leadership post, in 1974.

At a time where suburban politicians tend to keep their combative tendencies under wraps, World War II-Korea veteran and former FBI agent Papan was a throwback to a more colorful generation. Even his most dedicated enemies had nothing but respect for his capabilities. We shall not soon see his ilk again.

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